Sex, Words, Reality

What is the average man-in-the-street, Catholic or otherwise, to make of these words spoken by Pope Francis on the plane trip back to Rome from Azerbaijan on October 2?

Last year I received a letter from a Spanish man who told me his story from the time when he was a child. He was born a female, a girl, and he suffered greatly because he felt that he was a boy but physically was a girl. He told his mother, when he was in his twenties, at 22, that he wanted to have an operation and so forth. His mother asked him not to do so as long as she was alive. She was elderly, and died soon after. He had the operation. He is a municipal employee in a town in Spain. He went to the bishop. The bishop helped him a great deal, he is a good bishop and he “wasted” time to accompany this man. Then he got married. He changed his civil identity, he got married and he wrote me a letter saying that it would bring comfort to him to come see and me [sic] with his bride: he, who had been she, but is he. I received them. They were pleased. (emphasis added)

There are a number of problems with these statements, the first being that it is impossible to change your sex. You cannot be a man who was once a woman. To say “he was born a female” is to speak illogically. She who is born a female will always be a female. She can undergo bodily mutilation and take hormones in the hope of looking like a man, but that will not turn her into a man. That is impossible.

To seek such a change is to reject what God has made her; it is an offense against God’s providence, who gave life to this woman as a woman, not as a man. We are called to embrace reality and live accordingly. Any inadequacy she feels in her life is, of course, a serious concern for her and for those who love her. The solution, however, is not to agree with her idea that “God made a mistake in giving me a woman’s body when I am really a man.”

She is not a man, and any conviction on her part that she is a man is the real mistake. Learning to accept and cherish her femininity is her only path to peace and happiness. As Paul R. McHugh and Lawrence S. Mayer have shown in a recent study that, among other things, followed persons who have had “sex-change operations,” it does not increase their happiness.

Next problem: “she” cannot marry another woman. So the woman who accompanied her to meet Pope Francis is in no way “her” bride. To designate this relationship as a marriage, because one of the women involved thinks she is a man trapped in a woman’s body, is to encourage confusion.

The Holy Father (with spokesman Greg Burke) on the plane trip back to Rome from Azerbaijan
The Holy Father (with spokesman Greg Burke) on the plane trip back to Rome from Azerbaijan

While we may speak politely of a Catholic man and woman who marry solely in a civil ceremony as married, even though they are not married in the eyes of the Church, this should never be extended to a same-sex couple. As the pope himself has said, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (Amoris Laetitia 251.)

Then why did he speak as he did to that Spanish “couple”? In August, he told the Polish bishops: “Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible!”

Yet he calls a woman a man. What is going on?

My guess: Francis is trying to be sympathetic towards a person who is in obvious psychological turmoil. He wants to help. That’s good. But his approach is sentimental and his words sound more like an enabler’s, not a healer’s. Sympathy displaced the primacy of truth and reason – perilous in so many ways.

A person who has a grave psychological problem needs to encounter and embrace the truth. Agreeing with someone’s fundamental misconception about himself may seem kind, but it leaves that person with a false idea of who he is and what his life is.

It’s wrong for anyone in the Church to seem to be at ease with the idea that you could really be a woman born into a man’s body, that you’re only “your true self” when you accept this “fact” and act accordingly. We do not, for example, tell anorexics that dieting is good for them since they, unlike most people, are somehow naturally disinclined to eat.

Sadly, the plain impression given to the average man in the street when Pope Francis speaks about a woman as a “he” who “marries” “his bride” is that the pope does in fact somewhat allow that this woman is now a man. This is always the problem of adopting a values-neutral, non-judgmental stance in dealing with people whose emotional difficulties lead them into serious moral and even existential problems.

Not mentioning the truth about God’s design in creating man as unchangeably male or female, in the hope that this non-confrontational approach will somehow help these two women, has resulted in great confusion and disappointment among the faithful. The proponents of the myth of transgenderism are pleasantly surprised by all this.

I suspect that these two women left their meeting (“They were pleased”) with the impression that Pope Francis thinks it is okay for them to pretend that one is a man, and that that they are in some way married.

I am certain that Pope Francis does not really believe that. It’s regrettable that his poor choice of words left that impression.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.